I have a thing about being late. The thing is: I hate it. I have about a 5-minute patience window for lateness on others’ parts—I realize that some things are really out of our control, like public transportation—but an even narrower window for myself. I’ve calculated to the minute how long it takes me to walk my usual routes around the city, and the fact that I can use my feet, driven by me, instead of anything with wheels, driven by others, to get to my office and most places in my neighborhood is one of the few tiny things about my life that I believe keeps me sane. Walking of course boasts a plethora of health benefits, from lowering the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke to an overall lower body weight, but it also helps me feel that I can be where I want and need to be no matter what’s going on around me.
When I’m running late for something, my fight or flight reaction becomes a visceral reality that’s deeply unsettling. Lacking control of my whereabouts and, more importantly, my when-abouts, I feel my heart start to race, my breath quicken, and the blood pulse strongly in my veins. If I were being attacked by an animal, this evolutionary survival tactic to combat a threat would be quite handy. But the reality is that the stress of being late for something, no matter how important it may seem, is hardly worthy of the word “threat.” It’s a reaction to the expectations of contemporary life, and for some (like me) internal expectations to do everything right all the time and on time. Better yet, make that 10 minutes early.
The antidote to being late and its accompanying feelings is, of course, the moment of arrival. The finally being where you’re supposed to be. The realization that what just moments ago was so very not okay is actually completely okay. And that you are okay, here. The pulsing inside you slows, and the frantic tunnel vision of I’ve-gotta-get-somewhere-move you use to see the world suddenly opens up into panorama. You realize that you’re not only here, but you’re here now.
Patanjali’s first yoga sutra, Atha yoga anushasanam, forms the basis of the entire practice of yoga but is also a reminder of why being late should never be a problem. It translates simply (even enigmatically) to “Now, the teachings of yoga,” inviting the student to be present while embarking upon his or her studies of the philosophy and physical postures leading toward bliss. It reassures that it wouldn’t have been any better to start yoga 10 years, or 10 minutes, earlier, or to wait to get more flexible or stronger. Rather, now is just the right time because it’s all we have; we can only be in one time at a time, which means we will always arrive when we’re supposed to.
When I step on my yoga mat, I often experience the same feeling as when I’ve reached a destination after delay: the immediate wash of calm and stillness that erases whatever happened earlier in the day. Bringing myself into that safe space, where I can be myself fully without judgment, and where whatever I am to today is already perfect, offers a moment to recalibrate and center. The foundational pose of Tadasana perhaps most outwardly reflects that feeling—you become a mountain, solid and fixed and majestically present—as are postures like Balasana, child’s pose, and Malasana, garland pose/squat. But what about in less traditionally centered poses, ones that literally and figuratively throw you off balance? From Garudasana to Natarajasana, the poses that force you into asymmetry sometimes evoke the greatest sensations of stability. They cannot be rushed as doing so will make you fall, so in the gradual gathering up of inner energy and strength through the center line of the body you gradually arrive in the pose. And sometimes you don’t.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by decisions and circumstances outside of our individual control; the fact that we live such socially codependent lives almost contradicts our very notion of free will. But our ability to overcome that impulse to fit ourselves into the units of time that arbitrarily propel our days is another facet of that same free will. It proves that our minds have an endless ability to recalibrate, to rise to the occasion. Make the occasion you seek not a moment you constantly head toward, but the moment that already is.